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TV Note: Student TV network just perfect for dorms

Monday, May 20, 2002

David Mandel and Steve Look-ner are building an audience one college dorm room at a time.

They're co-hosts of "Dave and Steve's Video Game Explosion," the most popular program on Burly Bear, a television network most people over age 25 have never heard of.

The two sit, Wayne and Garth-like, in front of a camera, and expound upon the latest electronic toys. Instead of thumbs-up or thumbs-down, their rating scale ranges from "buy it" to "turn off your console, go outside, and get some fresh air."

Burly Bear is now coming off college campuses for the first time. Its shows can be seen twice a week on TBS, during hours best suited to college students and insomniacs: 2 a.m. Thursdays and varying times in the wee hours Friday mornings.

"We're distinguishing ourselves as producers of high-concept, relatively low-cost programming with lots of fresh faces and energy to burn," said Howard Handler, Burly Bear's CEO.

Burly Bear was started in 1995 by five friends from Connecticut. While on a ski vacation, they saw a TV channel devoted strictly to vacation resorts that was only available at those locations.

Just out of college, they thought a similar network aimed at 18- to 24-year-olds would work, believing that few existing networks spoke that age group's language.

Universities across the country had been wiring their dormitories for cable TV. They had room on those systems for a handful of channels specific to them, but few ideas what to show. Burly Bear stepped into the vacuum.

The network is now available on 450 campuses, and occasionally it is offered on cable systems that serve college towns.

They get shows like "Half Baked," a rock 'n' roll cooking program; "Impostor," a hidden-camera show that stages stunts like sending preppy breakdancers to the sidewalks of Harlem; the newsmagazine "Campus Crime"; and "Celebrity Highway," a cartoon that mocks celebrities.

Burly Bear is carried on a cable system near SUNY New Paltz in New York's Catskill Mountains. Fortuitously, that's where Lorne Michaels, executive producer of "Saturday Night Live," has a vacation home. He happened upon Burly Bear one day while channel surfing.

Michaels' production company, Broadway Video, bought a majority stake in Burly Bear in 1997.

Two of the founders, James Mairs and Matt Fry, started an independent production company to make "Half Baked." The show has just ended its run at Burly Bear.

Viacom is reportedly considering launching an MTV spinoff, called MTVU, that would compete directly on college campuses.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

DeGeneres to host 'Divas'

Emmy-winning comedian Ellen DeGeneres will be the first-ever host of VH1's annual "Divas" musical event.

Additionally, VH1 announced that Wayne Newton will serve as the announcer and singers Stevie Nicks and Anastacia have signed on to appear as special guests. They join Mary J. Blige, Cher, The Dixie Chicks, Celine Dion and Shakira.

"VH1 Divas Las Vegas" airs live at 9 p.m. Thursday from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

(wire reports)

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